by Sophia Pollalis ATC, CSCS

It has been one full year since our routines of life as we knew it got flipped on its head and many of us were quite lost. One year in and we still have not fully returned to what we knew as normal, but we have created a new normal within our means. What does your routine look like now? Are you back to work and school just as before but with masks? Have you remained in quarantine the entire time? Whatever it may be, you have likely established a routine that you are sticking to.

A routine, according to Merriam-Webster, is a habitual or mechanical sequence of an established procedure; a grind, groove, pattern, every-day, garden-variety, boring state or situation1. Routines are so ingrained in us that we don’t have to think or process in order to do. Many people like to cite celebrity routines as “goals” or what everyone should be doing, but your routine should be formed around you and your needs. For example, my current morning routine is let the dogs out, go for a run, make breakfast and feed the dogs, shower, and then move on with the rest of my day. When I do things out of order or don’t start my morning at close to the same time each day, my whole day tends to be thrown off and my dogs are mad that they haven’t been fed.

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Routines are incredibly important to us to create structure, ease, and expectations in our lives. Doing the same thing at the same time every day gives us a sense of comfort and stability. Life is inherently easier to manage, and last minute changes are easy to add on. Not having a set routine leaves room for chaos. We all have our list of things we need to accomplish each day. Sometimes that list has no timeline and we don’t have to plan anything. Most of the time we have to plan out our days to accomplish all the things on our list. The more routine those activities are, the less we have to think about it. The exact order that I prepare the dogs’ and my breakfast is so engrained at this point, when I eat something different my morning is not as efficient.

Routines can promote good health and hygiene, including mental health. Maintaining routines allows our brains to take a rest and function on autopilot. As a child, you were probably taught to brush your teeth before bed. The exact process you use to brush your teeth is a routine, and when you were learning it was probably difficult (in addition to the fine motor learning your hand and head had to do). As an adult, that process is much more automatic and, if you’re like me, you can walk around the house picking up dog toys or shutting off lights at the end of the night without your teeth suffering.

The other side of maintaining routines is self-care. This may be bold; self-care should be a part of your routine, but doing your routine is not self-care. Taking a shower is good hygiene and should be part of your routine, but it isn’t self-care. Taking time on a Sunday to soak in a bath and read 3 chapters of a book is self-care. Going for a run because I know I don’t function without it is routine. Choosing a destination race is self-care. As a society, we tend to bundle self-care into “I took care of myself in minimal ways today.” *A side note: if you’re a new parent or your normal routine has been completely flipped due to some anomaly in the universe like what happened a year ago, this isn’t included. You no longer have a routine. There is no structure. 24 hours feels like a marathon and taking 20 minutes to shower seems like bliss. Creating structure and holding things together is your self care because you need that to function.

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Having established routines is great, but you had to form them somehow. Whether your routine is exactly what you want or you have some things you want to change, forming routine takes time. Adherence to a new routine is one of the greatest challenges in lifestyle modification and the way it happens varies between people. On average, it takes approximately 66 days for a habit to form, but can range from 18 to 254 days3. We want to form routines so there is one less choice to make. If you always get a café mocha latte on your way to work, you’ll waste less time deciding what you want to make. If you wear your workout clothes to bed, you don’t have to choose what to wear in the morning and are more likely to go to the gym. If you’ve ever tried losing weight or becoming a morning person when you’re not, having to make the choice to do these things is really hard because we inherently want to pick the easiest, quickest, or most enjoyable option.

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My challenge for you this week is to take a look at your routines, even if it’s just how you make breakfast. Is everything the way you envision it in your head? If it is, great! I’m so proud of you. If it’s not, what’s one thing you can do starting tomorrow to take a step toward what you want. Make it as easy or as hard as you want (remember, you’re more likely to comply with the easier option). Wake up 15 minutes earlier every day this week. Place a self-care activity somewhere into your routine. Increase your daily step goal and take an extra walk to reach it. The routine I’m adding this week is to spend 15 minutes studying each day

Sources:

1.       https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/routine

2.       https://www.fortbehavioral.com/addiction-recovery-blog/the-importance-of-routines/

3.       https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6378489/

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